Seeing Stars

Posted on October 26, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

San Antonio is the first big city I’ve lived in since I started running 13 years ago.  Before now, I’ve lived in small towns or on the outskirts of big ones, far enough away from neighbors that I didn’t have to worry about loud music or closed curtains.

I love San Antonio, and I’m glad to live here.  But one thing I miss about living away from a city is stars.

When I took up running, I lived in Guam. If you want to see how small you really are, live on an island for awhile.  I never comprehended how vast the sky is until I could see it unimpeded by buildings, light, or smog.   There were few well-lit routes to run, but the sky was so clear and bright, especially when the moon was on either side of full, that lights weren’t really necessary.   And the bonus? I regularly got the privilege of running under shooting stars and meteor showers.

The skies above Salado, Texas, where I moved when I came back to the States, were nearly as clear as in Guam. Minus the shooting stars and meteor showers.  Nevertheless, I ran in the dark, under starry skies, eyes always up in search of constellations.

Darkness has its drawbacks.  When you’re unaccustomed to your route you run the risk of tripping over roots or falling into potholes.  But if you tread the same dark path enough times, your feet learn where the sidewalk ends, leaving your eyes to pursue higher things.

Now that I live in the city, I am learning to refocus my gaze.  We all know the trick of running up hills:  Train your gaze a few feet in front of you instead of on the horizon.  Trick your brain into seeing a straight, level path instead of an incline.

My gaze has been cast down not so much to level the hills with my eyes, but in an attempt to avoid treading in the dog poop thoughtless people leave behind.  You run the same sidewalks enough times, you learn where to take the detour into the street.

I still love to run in the dark and am fortunate to have a few stretches on my route that fall outside the puddles of streetlights.  I find that when I’m running through the darkest stretches, my eyes automatically look up, searching for the pattern of stars that lets me know where I am.  I guess I’ve trained my eyes well after all.  And tomorrow when I set out on my path, maybe I’ll be fortunate enough to see stars.

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Posted on April 13, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This week I hit two milestones:

1.            I finally reached my sprint goal.  (Yay!)

2.            I officially registered for the June sprint tri.

I’ve been working toward my sprint goal for a good couple of months.  I was so happy when I reached it this week that I almost pulled a George Jetson and flew backwards off the treadmill.  Thank goodness for railings.

Not only was I ecstatic because I actually reached my goal, I was—and am—ecstatic because attaining my goal means I get to set a new one.  A bigger one.  A more challenging one.

Which is why I am doing the sprint tri.  I’ve said that this will be my third tri.  It will actually be my third and a half.  I was so nervous the first time around that my friend and I entered as a two (wo)man team.  The tri was called A Little Sand in Your Shoe, and it was on the beach in Guam.

I had to swim from Tumon Bay out to a sand bar and back, bury a ball in the sand, then run down the beach to tag my teammate. She had to ride her bike through the jungle (one participant got lost—I think I got the good end of the deal), run back down the beach, and dig up the ball I had buried.

Except that I was so caught up in the event that I didn’t mark the location of our ball well enough, and my teammate couldn’t find it.  We came in 2nd place for the 2-man team anyway.  It didn’t matter that there were only two teams.  I was hooked.

As I was thinking about that race this week, I recalled the reason I entered it in the first place.  It was a challenge.  A fun way to see how far I could push myself, see what my body could do.  Only I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to do it alone, and I was fortunate to have a friend in the same boat.  Funny how often we end up hanging out with people who are so like us.

That got me to thinking about the reason I set out to do two sprint tris on my own.  My motivation for them, as it turns out, was not so uplifting.  Each of the two tris were like bookends containing a a heavy life load.  The collapse of a marriage.  Sickness. Death.  I needed something to hold on to, something of my own. I needed to know that I could rely on myself—and I needed to preoccupy my mind and my time.  At this point in life, I was figuring out how to do that without self-destructing.

Turns out that running—competing in tris and half marathons and other races—is good therapy.  It shows you what you’re made of.  It gives you confidence and peace. At least it does for me.

This time, my third full sprint tri, I am back to where I started in Tumon Bay—almost. I set this particular goal not to dull any pain or preoccupy my mind.  I am blessed.  Life is, after all, really good.  I set this goal to challenge myself, and to have fun.  But now I have the confidence to rely on my own abilities, whether I succeed or fail.

I may know who I am, but races always surprise me.  I get to learn more about what I’m made of.  And that’s a goal worth achieving.

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It’s About Time

Posted on February 17, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I stopped wearing a watch nearly four years ago when I started working from home.  There was no reason to wear one anymore, since my house had a clock visible from nearly every room and I spent much of my time in front of a computer anyway.  Funny thing, time.  It seems to change when you feel like you own it.

It made me think a lot about what my attitude toward time had been, particularly how much time I wasted because of the mindset I had adopted.  I often thought of Henry Thoreau saying, “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”  I had been injuring eternity all right, by doing a lot of nothing, or by doing the same thing.  Stagnating, which is what happens when we feel like we’re moving backward or standing still.

I had experienced the feeling of time standing still when I moved in the dead of winter from Chicago to Guam, a tropical island near the foot of the Mariana Trench.  In Guam, it’s always the same temperature and flowers are always in bloom.  The seasons never change.  Sound like paradise?  Maybe.  Until you realize that months and then years have passed with each day essentially the same.

I realized then the importance of seasons in triggering change—not only the obvious, outward changes like leaves first budding then browning, but the change that begins within, with us.  When we stand still we stagnate.  We do the same thing, repeatedly follow the same routine until it becomes thoughtless habit, like brushing our teeth.  We get in a rut without realizing it, and before we know it, we are standing still.  It’s as if time has stopped.

This can happen with running, or any other form of exercise.  If you do the same thing again and again, your body stops responding to what you’re doing with your time, and you get nowhere.  Fast.  Has your pace stalled at the x-minute mile?  Are you running the same number of miles a week you always have been, but suddenly seeing dimples show up on your thighs instead of your smile?  It’s time, then, to do something different.  It’s time to own the time you put into your workout.

It’s critical to change your routine, even if the change is as simple as taking a new route on your run or adding extra weight or reps to your workout.  Your body will respond positively and thank you for it.

It’s almost spring—isn’t it about time for that change?

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To See or Not to See

Posted on January 27, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I first took up running 11 years ago when I lived in Guam.  Looking back, I can see all the good reasons why I began.  At the time, however, it all boiled down to one thing:  spite.   I set out to run with the specific intension of showing “them” that I could.

Ah, the nebulous “them.”  All those people, circumstances, events, voices that conspire to tell us we’re not enough of one kind of person—or  too much of another—to make it even a mile down the road, much less run a race.  We all know “them,” whether they show up in our running or camp out on some other doorstep in our head.

Spite might get you going, but it sends you down the road alone.  At least it did me.  Because I initially set myself apart from other runners, I spent a lot of time not only physically uncomfortable but downright miserable.  I didn’t know, for instance, that companies actually make clothing specifically designed to keep runners cool, so I ran for months in heavy cotton t-shirts, losing more weight in sweat than in anything else.  It’s always the little things that make such a big difference.  It wasn’t until I was ready to receive the knowledge and friendship of other runners that I found that running could actually be comfortable, and even fun.  Up until then, I kinda hated it.

Once I opened myself up, I received all kinds of great things.  Practical advice.  Training tips.  Cool new routes to run.   New friends.  All these things made me a better runner, but they did something more.  They smothered the voices of “them.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “People only see what they are prepared to see.”  Certainly, I had to be prepared to receive other runners, but I also had to be ready to let go of “them” and hold onto me.  I had to believe in myself.  I had to alter my vision of myself in order to really, truly believe that I could accomplish my goals.  I had to prepare my mind to see me differently.

Fortunately, and, ironically, through running, I eventually learned to send “them” packing off down the road and to leave me alone.  But I’m not really alone anymore.  I belong to a community of runners.  And I know that I can run—I’ve seen it for myself.

What are you preparing yourself to see?

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